Whether it was the altruistic ice bucket challenge or 5G conspiracy theories, petitions, or #boycott hashtags...viral stories are often the work of influential, agenda-driven online groups, called factions.
Check out some of the coordination tactics factions use to take advantage of the way social platforms work and to use brands as vehicles to exert power and influence online.
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Inauthentic displays of support or participation in a conversation where one or more groups attempt to appear as though they are a larger organization than they really are, and that they have grassroots support.
Automated accounts which post content while assuming a false identity to amplify a particular perspective or narrative, either through spamming, manipulating trending topics, targeted harassment, or creating a false sense of consensus. Bots can make numerically small faction to appear dramatically larger online.
Organizing a broad, coordinated, and publicized change in consumer behavior with the intention of forcing a change in company behavior. Boycotts are intended to force brands and organizations to recognize the views or desires of a group, such as dropping advertising, sponsorships, or production practices by “hitting them where it hurts.”
Attacking critics of an individual, brand, or opinion favored by the faction by attacking their reputation, diminishing their credibility, calling for them to be muted, or boycotting businesses that support or endorse them.
Utilizing shareholder rights in publicly traded companies to compel change or get visibility for an issue related to that company’s practices or products. Factions can work either through direct ownership of shares or with an ideologically aligned hedge fund or investor.
Abusive behavior intended to damage an individual or brand’s reputation online through disinformation, rumors, or exaggerations. Intended to isolate an individual or brand from friends, allies, or supporters who might otherwise stand up for them online.
Creating a unique name for your faction, which become hashtags to coordinate activities and are used in users’ profiles to help them identify themselves. For example, Michael Jackson fans call themselves “moonwalkers”, Ariana Grande fans are “arianators”, and Lady Gaga fans are “little monsters”.
Form of manipulation wherein agitators intentionally and repeatedly feign concern about an issue with the intention of derailing authentic conversation. Employed to disrupt genuine conversations where groups are organizing around an objective.
Most commonly employed by unorganized groups to generate viral images or video, which promote a specific narrative that can be broadly spread across numerous social platforms. This content is difficult to monitor because it carries text over an image or voice over video that most monitoring tools are unable to collect on.
A belief that a secret or clandestine effort or force is responsible for one or more events (usually entirely unsubstantiated by the evidence available). Internet factions often incorporate prominent figures and companies into their conspiracy theories, and associate them with sinister agendas or directly implicate them in some crime or plot.
Creating AI-generated content with an uncanny likeness of a specific individual’s image, voice, etc. There is growing fear that deep fakes will enable factions to create compromising or damaging images, videos, and audio of prominent individuals.
Buying up huge amounts of limited-stock items but never completing the transaction. It works if a shop actually reserves an item when a user puts it in a cart, and it’s most effective if there are no limits on how many items people can buy at a time, if cart contents don’t expire after a fixed period or if the attacker is using bots to constantly refresh the fake purchases.
Buying web domains that match brand or product name (or close misspellings) before the company itself does, or purchase domains with names related to a targeted company or individual that is overtly negative or derogatory. The owner of the site then may upload negative content about that brand or individual to the page and then attempt to draw attention to the site.
Targeted harassment where one or more individuals have personally identifiable information (e.g. address, employer, name of family members, etc.) released online. Employed to intimidate or escalate an existing harassment campaign by enabling harassers to call employers demanding the target be fired, harass family members, or send IRL threats.
Releasing materials that purport to be confidential to the general public and press. These may be obtained from actual insiders, hacks, legal discovery during litigation, or entirely manufactured, typically with the intention of implicating the targeted company with wrongdoing.
Utilizing fake coupons or other promotions to leverage consumer behaviors and loyalty around a product or brand in order to drive interest or attention to a narrative or outcome with the (fraudulent) promise of a financial reward after.
Employing bots, spamming, or other coordinated efforts to alter the results of recommendation algorithms in order to subtly draw attention to a narrative, direct searches for a topic to a specific piece of content, or crowd out organic or contradictory content that is not aligned with the desired narrative.
Follow-back requests to increase following (and influence) and create a tight-knit network on broad, public social platforms. As a result, members of factions often have high degrees of similarity between their follower/following/friends lists.
Soliciting money to fund activities by the group and generate media coverage around a cause or campaign. Fundraising could be done through crowdfunding pages, grassroots donations, or large donors/grants.
Gaming numbers to discredit opposing movements or opinions. For example, after the release of “Leaving Neverland”, Michael Jackson stans pointed to high streaming values (which they partially encouraged) as evidence that the various MJ boycotts were not working.
Unauthorized access into a secure computer or network. Additionally, once inside the system hackers may then deface, destroy, or copy valuable or sensitive data.
Targeting a specific individual or brand, typically with crass language, ridicule, trolling or abusive posts on all of their content. Done in an effort to drive targeted individuals or brands to reduce their willingness to post online, or in extreme cases, drive them offline entirely.
Given how difficult it can be to make a topic or hashtag trend, particularly now that social media platforms are watching for signs of manipulation, some groups may attempt to hijack or co-opt an existing trend to amplify their narrative or issues to broader audiences.
Promoting or publicizing (a product or idea) intensively, often exaggerating its importance or benefits. This in order to draw attention to a specified launch date.